BJ’s Restaurants Inc. officially launched a mobile ordering and payment app that’s designed to speed the dining process for time-starved guests and steal back traffic lost to fast-casual competitors.
Earlier this year, BJ’s chief executive Greg Trojan said the 151-unit chain would join other casual-dining concepts in tapping new technologies to give guests more control over the dining experience.
BJ’s, however, took a different tack than Applebee’s, Chili’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, which have rolled out tabletop tablets to allow guests to order and pay on their own timing. Instead, BJ’s opted to allow guests to use their own devices to order ahead for both dine-in and takeout orders, move up in line for a table and pay without waiting for the check.
Watch a commercial for BJ's mobile app
With the new app, BJ’s aims to lure back guests who might choose a fast-casual concept over BJ’s at lunch or dinner because they lack time, said Trojan.
“It’s really a paradigm shift” for casual dining, he said. “If you take out the front-end time (when people peruse the menu and order their meals) and take out the time spent waiting for a check, our experience becomes more of a 35-minute experience, as opposed to close to an hour. But you don’t feel rushed.”
For BJ’s, the move is also part of a larger effort to reposition the brand as an innovator responding to the changing needs of guests.
Like many casual-dining chains, the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based BJ’s has struggled to turn around declines in same-store sales in recent months. Same-store sales fell 2.9 percent in BJ’s April 1-ended first quarter, though sales trends improved during the second half of the quarter after the chain launched a new menu and “One for All” marketing campaign that emphasized its broad appeal and affordability.
The addition of mobile ordering and payment was the next step in the chain’s ongoing effort to become more relevant.
Trojan, who joined BJ’s in 2012, was previously chief executive of the Guitar Center retail chain, where he witnessed the consumer shift to online shopping and use of smartphones.
“I had been living in a world where I could see how people’s behaviors were being changed by how they used their phones and tablets,” he explained. “When I came to BJ’s, I felt it was going to happen here too.”
The new app lets guests select menu choices and add a credit card payment option on their smartphone. Once the guest arrives at the restaurant and checks in with the host or hostess, the order is sent to the kitchen.
If there’s a wait for tables, the mobile order essentially marks a guest’s place in line for faster seating. If guests select takeout, they can pay before they arrive and just pick up the food and go. Many restaurants offer curbside pickup, so some guests don’t even have to leave their car.
In addition, loyalty club members can use the app to track their reward points and receive other special perks.
Trojan said it would take time for consumers to get the hang of using the app — especially the notion of ordering ahead for a dine-in occasion.
The chain is testing the use of TV and radio ads in a few markets to drive trial. In one commercial, a child explains the benefits of a quick experience — because kids hate waiting — before she warns her parents of an impending meltdown, prompting a hasty exit.
Trojan said the technology remains a work in progress, and new functionalities will be added in time, such as a feature that will allow groups to combine orders rather than ordering all meals for the table from one device.
Though many guests will still choose to linger over a few beers and watch a game, Trojan said the option of speed would bring more people to BJ’s and turn more tables.
“We’re widening the funnel of occasions. We think, through word of mouth, people are going to say this is a great way to experience casual dining. ‘I can go to BJ’s for lunch now and I couldn’t do that before,’” he explained. “And turning tables a little faster, as long as the guest is making that decision, is something we love to do. That builds sales all by itself.”
BJ’s operates restaurants under the BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, BJ’s Pizza & Grill, and BJ’s Grill brand names.
Contact Lisa Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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